Reacclimation is the name of the game for Garland County volleyball teams.
After the COVID-19 pandemic brought the sports world to a halt in March, volleyball teams across the state are following directives set forth by the Arkansas Activities Association and the Arkansas Department of Health as they conduct workouts to get back in shape.
"They look good," Jessieville head coach Jodi Castleberry said of her players. "They are super excited to be back in the gym. We had so much time off that I was kind of worried about mindset, wondering how they were going to look, but they have really just hit the ground running. You can really tell they're excited to be back in the gym. It's been really good."
Lakeside head coach Rhonda Thigpen agreed.
"You could tell that they've been off on their own so there was some of that," she said. "I (held Zoom meetings with) them all during COVID, so we actually did workouts, but it's different when you have coaches standing there. Some of them did things extra, and you could tell and some of them -- it's just like anything else. They slacked off, but I can say intensity picked up, and we were getting back in somewhat shape before we took the break."
Lake Hamilton is having small-scale trainings as normally the practices don't begin until July, said head coach Karen Smith.
"I have several kids that are on vacation, so I haven't seen everyone yet," she explained. "Normally, we give the volleyball girls the month of June off and then we start after the holidays in July, after that second dead week. Since I haven't seen the kids and we didn't get to do a try out, we've been coming in and having small specific practices like setters for an hour, defense for an hour for the past three Wednesdays. So I've only seen the ones who have made it. ... On average I have anywhere between 17 and 20 girls, is what I've seen; it's not all at the same time, but spread out and everyone seems to be super excited about getting into volleyball, getting able to start practicing, and all of us are hoping and praying we get a season this year. We're excited about it and we want it -- that's our goal is to get a season this year and be able to play all our games."
Thigpen said that she is making sure her athletes are "going above and beyond with masks" and cleaning.
"I wear masks all the time, but they wear masks to practice and once they're doing their stuff, they have to be 12 feet apart, and they take their mask off. If they walk to the weight room, they put their mask on. If they're standing, they have their mask on. We're strictly abiding by everything we're supposed to do."
With Lakeside sticking to the original dead week schedule that the AAA made optional earlier this month, Thigpen has been unable to work with her players for the last week or so.
"They would do a weight workout, and then I would take that group down and they'd do a skill workout," she said. "It's (just) me, so I couldn't split them up -- I couldn't rotate them. We'd just go from one station to another, and I would wait and get that group gone and signal the next group in. It takes a little bit longer, but it's safer."
Many of the Lady Wolves are multi-sport athletes, so Smith has not had all of her athletes in workouts.
"Most of the girls that play volleyball for Lake Hamilton play many different sports," she explained. "We have very few athletes that specialize at Lake Hamilton, which is a good thing, I think. A lot of the girls are still doing basketball workouts, and some of them have started getting ready for golf and tennis and things like that. We've got some girls that are doing track and cross country, so a lot of the kids I didn't really have to give a workout to since they are already doing something. I also have girls who play club volleyball, and they do a lot of sand volleyball. They're all active in that respect."
Castleberry said that Jessieville has several multi-sport athletes as well, which has allowed multiple sports to work out together.
"We've been working with the girls basketball team and some of the cross country girls, and we just put them all together because we share a lot of the same kids," she said. "They've been doing conditioning, running, just some body weight kind of workouts, a lot of agility, stairwork, that kind of stuff. ... "We've really just been more focused on getting them back in shape since they've had so much downtime."
Thigpen noted that she's proud of the way her team has reacted to the guidelines since returning to the court.
"When they come to practice, they come to practice," she said. "They realize it's a privilege. ... They're hungry to get back with more than two on a side. They're hungry to see our season, hopefully we get to have one. We did some studies during the COVID time -- team studies and leadership -- and that's one of the things we work on: how do we react?
"We call it the controllables and the uncontrollables. We worked hard on when you walk in the gym, there's things you couldn't control about COVID, but there are other things we can control when we walk in the gym, and we have 'x' amount of time because I have to space them all out so please take advantage of your opportunity. So we've done a lot of them. Apply the mental -- learn something from this COVID. Don't just come in the gym and go, 'Oh geez, somebody was sick, so we couldn't practice.' No, this is all of us together. ... Now, when you're in the gym, and you're in that small group, what is your reaction? What are your controllables? So I'm proud of the maturity I'm seeing so far."